Maybe he really did hit his head.
Something has to explain the seemingly overnight change in the Mayor’s support of bicycling.
His first four years in office, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa never let the word bicycle pass his lips in public. Or if he did, it occurred outside the hearing of the bike community, leaving many cyclists — myself included — to assume he was anti-bike.
Evidently, we were wrong.
It was just seven months ago that Villaraigosa captured the attention of L.A. cyclists by voicing support for CicLAvia, even if he didn’t actually use the word. And just a month since he stunned the entire city by falling off his bike and shattering his elbow.
No, it wasn’t the fall that shocked us — it was that he was even on a bike.
Now, less than a month later, bicyclists were the invited guests at the Mayor’s first Bike Summit — where he received a pair of training wheels, courtesy of cyclist and former Mayor Richard Riordan and BAC Chairperson Emeritus Alex Baum. And in two short hours, had made an impression, grudgingly perhaps, on a highly skeptical house of roughly 300 bicyclists.
What he said was less important than the mere fact that he stuck around for the full two hours and listened to a long line of cyclists voice their suggestions.
And their complaints.
The Mayor started things off by talking about his near-collision and discovery of the possibilities of cycling on last year’s trip to Copenhagen, and quickly morphed into the need to enforce the vehicle code and change the car culture on the streets of L.A.
With a panel that included LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson and Planning Director Michael LoGrande, among others, he addressed complaints ranging from Joe Linton’s remarks about the errors in the bike plan, to Jessica Meaney’s comment that “Roads are for everyone, not just the brave.”
Along with Brent Butterworth’s statement about drivers who think they know traffic law without truly understanding it. “People are driving around with laws in their heads that they made up.”
And please forgive me if I spelled anyone’s name wrong.
BAC Chair Glenn Bailey seemed to sum up the attitudes of audience members when he called on the Mayor and his staff to “safely accommodate bicycles on all streets, in all projects, without exception.”
The Mayor said Los Angeles was committed to building 40 miles of bikeways each year for the next 5 years, and 1600 over the next 25 — even though the city has built only 372 miles of bikeways in the previous 13 years. And responded favorably, but noncommittally, when cyclists asked for a biking equivalent of the Mayor’s 30/10 plan to speed up the pace of transit projects.
Villaraigosa responded to comments about CicLAvia with a promise to attend, and reiterated his support for a 10% set-aside for from Measure R funds for bike and pedestrian projects. He also said that he will soon film PSAs to promote bicycle safety, safe driving and helmet use, and will encourage local TV stations to play them.
However, he drew a round of boos when he said he’ll ask the state legislature to pass a mandatory helmet law, noting his doctors said he would still be hospitalized if he hadn’t been wearing his at the time of his accident. At least one audience member, BAC Vice Chair Jay Slater, agreed though, noting that the state already has a mandatory helmet law for minors. “Aren’t the brains of those over 18 just as valuable as those under,” he asked?
Mayor Villaraigosa agreed with 11th District Council Member Bill Rosendahl, the only Council Member who spoke — or appeared to be in attendance, for that matter — that they should work for a statewide three foot passing law, as well. Both also seemed to support the City Attorney’s plan for a civil anti-harassment law that would allow cyclists to sue drivers who assault, threaten or harass them, regardless of whether criminal charges are filed.
He assured the audience that his representatives will show up — and stay — for meetings of the city’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee, and that city staff and engineers will attend bike-related meetings when appropriate; if smaller cities like Glendale and Burbank can have staff attend meetings, he said, “so can we.” And that the city will look for opportunities to work with other agencies and jurisdictions to coordinate bicycle programs and capitalize on opportunities for funding.
On the other hand, he said the city had fixed potholes at three times the rate of the previous city administration, but that was going was going to slow down due to L.A.’s budget problems. Even though he acknowledged the risk that presented for riders.
Finally, the Mayor announced that he wanted to meet with cyclists again in a year to evaluate the city’s progress.
So is this the day that the Los Angeles finally turned the corner to become the bike-friendly city it always should have been?
Don’t get me wrong. This was huge, and hugely successful.
But there’s still a lot of work to do. And Mayor Villaraigosa still needs to demonstrate that his support goes beyond mere words and meetings, and will lead to the genuine action and hard choices that will make a difference on our streets and for our safety.
But it’s a start.
After five years in office, the Mayor is finally talking to us.
More importantly, he actually seems to be listening.
You can hear my comments about the Bike Summit, along with a brief interview with the Mayor, by downloading the podcast of Monday’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle on 89.3 KPCC.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Villaraigosa said that he’d just received word that a bicyclist had been killed in the San Fernando Valley Monday morning. So far, I haven’t been able to find any information to confirm that report. If you have any information, let me know.